While investigators have to finalise their inquiries, parish volunteer Billy Bevan, who is associated closely with Holy Cross Church and who is a former firefighter with the Kenmare service, said it appeared the fire started in the organ, which is electrical and had been plugged in.
The fire, which was spotted at 9am, spread rapidly, but because of the quick response from the fire service, in both Kenmare and Sneem (they were on the scene within minutes), the worst of the damage was confined to the front-door area.
Prayers were taking place at the other end of the church at the time, in the side chapel, known as the Nuns’ Chapel, when the fire broke out.
Holy Cross was consecrated in 1864 and was extensively renovated and repainted four years ago ahead of its 150th anniversary.
In an interview with Radio Kerry, Mr Bevan said the building had suffered extensive smoke damage.
The main church was closed yesterday, but the Nuns’ Chapel was used for morning Mass.
It is hoped that weddings and christenings, scheduled for the weekend, will take place. However, it will be some time before the main door area will be ready, it is thought.
Parish priest of Kenmare, Fr Tom Crean, said the fire would have been potentially devastating, had it taken hold, adding that there was “an element of relief” it was so confined.